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There’s nothing more basic than the shelter a roof provides. Fortunately, roofs are quite durable and will protect you from the elements for a long time before needing replacement. But eventually, your roof will need work. When it does, the cost is likely to be steep. And unless you choose your contractor carefully, you can spend way too much for a lousy job.

To ensure success and avoid roof goofs, hire a reliable roofing contractor, get in writing exactly what will be done, and keep a close eye on the job as it progresses. The nonprofit Washington Consumers’ Checkbook has surveyed local consumers and found there are many excellent area roofers — and also discovered you don’t have to pay more to get great work.

To identify top outfits, use Checkbook’s ratings of local roofing contractors. Until July 20, Washington Post readers can access Checkbook’s unbiased ratings of local roofing companies free via

Quality of work should be your biggest concern. No job is a bargain if your roof leaks or looks terrible. But once you have identified roofers that measure up on quality factors, price becomes critical.

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Checkbook’s undercover shoppers worked with three homeowners to get bids on roofing jobs for their homes. The roofer-to-roofer price differences on the same job were striking. For one project, prices ranged from $11,223 to $17,848 — a difference of $6,625. For another job, quotes ranged from $7,133 to $10,958 — a difference of $3,825. For the third, prices ranged from $13,000 to $15,965 — a difference of $2,965.

The message is obvious: Get several bids.

Get at least three bids from companies rated high for quality. Don’t assume a low bid signifies you’ll get lousy work: For each of these three jobs, our shoppers received low prices from top-rated outfits. And don’t get bids only from companies that quoted low prices to us. Our experience with roofing bids is that there’s often no consistency: Contractors charge high prices for some jobs and low ones for others.

If you can’t be present during the estimate, email your specifications in advance. Use estimators as your consultants, getting feedback from them to determine what needs to be done. Then return to them with the final description of what you want and invite them to bid on the work.

Before deciding on any contractor, ask for proof that it is licensed and carries liability and workers’ compensation insurance.

Get a copy of the warranty from the manufacturer of whatever roofing materials are used. Also get a warranty on the roofer’s work, ideally for five years or more.

On asphalt composite shingle roofs, manufacturers’ guarantees range from 30 years to 50 years. On built-up, modified bitumen, or single-ply flat roofs, warranties range from less than 15 to more than 25 years.

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Roofers’ guarantees of their workmanship usually run from one to two years, but you may be able to get one for five or 10 years, or even longer. Have the roofer write into your contract: “In addition to all other warranties, if roof leaks within five years [or, better still, 10 years], except as a result of accidental damage, contractor will bear the cost of labor and materials to eliminate all leaks.”

Get a fixed-price contract. Specify exactly what roof areas are to be covered and other details, such as whether old shingles are to be removed, whether flashings are to be replaced, who is responsible for cleaning up and hauling away debris, and exactly what types and weights of materials are to be used.

While you should be able to obtain a binding contract at the estimate price, most roofers will insist on provisions for extra charges if they will find damaged fascia, sheathing or structural lumber. Most contracts state that required carpentry will be performed on a “per-foot” or “time-and-materials” basis. Make sure your contract states how charges will be computed, typically per square foot or linear foot.

Avoid roofers that require big upfront payments. A 10 percent deposit to secure a spot on a company’s schedule is reasonable, but beware the home-improvement scammers who demand a large deposit to buy materials. Reputable contractors have credit accounts with their suppliers that grant them at least 30 days to pay.

Arrange to pay for all or almost all the job after the work has been completed. Most roofers allow customers to withhold all payments until the job is complete. Try to arrange to withhold at least a portion of the price until your roof has been tested by stormy weather.

Report problems immediately. First, negotiate directly with your roofing contractor. If that doesn’t work, complain to the state’s contractors licensing department.

Kevin Brasler is the executive editor of Washington Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and, a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices. It is supported by consumers and takes no money from the service providers it evaluates. You can access Checkbook’s ratings of local roofing companies free until July 20 at

By TerBaru